The FARC, Colombia’s largest guerilla army, released 15 hostages to the Colombian government on July 2. The hostages included Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician, plus 11 other Colombians and 3 U.S. mercenaries.
Warfare of any kind is brutal, and the practice of taking hostages is especially so. Many individuals and governments therefore viewed this release of hostages as good news, and these sentiments were expressed with special emphasis in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Relations released a statement saying that “The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela joins in the jubilation over the joyous liberation …”
President Hugo Chávez said, “We share the jubilation, we are jubilant and happy for the liberation of these persons and, in addition, that the liberation was done without spilling a drop of blood.” Chávez himself had previously engineered the release of other FARC hostages, and he has asked FARC to release all hostages, which number somewhere between 700 and 2000.
Displaying more restraint than Chávez, Fidel Castro said, “If I may dare to suggest something to the FARC guerrillas, it is that they simply, by whatever means at their disposal, declare that they have unconditionally freed all the hostages and prisoners still under their control.”
According to the government of President Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian army somehow fooled the guerrillas, dropped to the ground in an unmarked helicopter, swooped up the captives, and disappeared into the sky above the rain forest. It all happened with the timing and precision of a motion picture.
Actually, it happened a little too much like a motion picture. Who put up the money to produce this masterpiece?
According to the Times Online (London), July 4, “Swiss public radio cited an unidentified source ‘close to the events, reliable and tested many times in recent years’ as saying the operation had in fact been staged to cover up the fact that the US and Colombians had paid $20 million for their freedom.”
On July 5, the Times Online reported that “a senior French expert” had said that some FARC members had “probably been bought.”
At the Irelan newsroom here in the Middle West, the staff doesn’t think the Colombian armed forces could rescue a cat from a tree. Despite the fact that George Bush has passed out billions of dollars worth of military hardware in Bogotá, the flow of cocaine from Colombia to the USA never diminishes, and the “war on drugs” never wins a battle. Colombian soldiers are much better at killing their own civilians, as illustrated in an article by Chris Kraul in the Los Angeles Times on March 21, 2008. The setting is Grenada, Colombia.
“Street vendor Israel Rodriguez went fishing last month and never came back. Two days later, his family found his body buried in a plastic bag, classified by the Colombian army as a guerrilla fighter killed in battle.”
Kraul learned from human-rights activists that this widespread practice is called “false positives.” Soldiers kill poor or unemployed civilians and report them as leftwing guerrillas.
For the military, “The killings are a product of intense pressure to show results in its U.S.-funded war against leftist insurgents, the activists say.”
Regardless of all this, the hostages released on July 2 are probably still elated. But what about the hundreds of others still held captive by FARC? Who will free them?
Both Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro have asked FARC to release all hostages. On June 8, Chávez went even further and urged the FARC to end its armed struggle. “You have become an excuse for the empire to threaten all of us,” he said. “The guerrilla war is history.”
Castro was more cautious. He denounced the “cruel methods of kidnapping and holding prisoners in the jungle.” But he did not advise the rebels to give up their weapons. He remembers past events too well.
James Petras summarized the problem at Venezuelanalysis on July 3. “Between 1984-89 thousands of FARC guerrillas disarmed and embraced the electoral struggle. They ran candidates, elected congressmen and women and were decimated by the death squads of the Colombian military, paramilitary and private armies of the oligarchy. Over 5,000 militants and leaders were murdered.”
Chávez understands all this. Long before the release of Ingrid Betancourt and the 14 others, a meeting between Chávez and Uribe had been scheduled for July 11. I wasn’t invited to attend, but I’ll be eager to read the news reports.
What do I think about all this? I think the people of Latin America don’t need me to tell them what to do. I wish that George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condi Rice would follow my example. They may not have noticed, but the empire is showing signs of decay. Nothing, thank God, lasts forever.
PATRICK IRELAN is a retired high-school teacher. He is the author of A Firefly in the Night (Ice Cube Press) and Central Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family (University of Iowa Press). You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.